The Washington Nationals designated struggling righty A.J. Cole for assignment on Friday afternoon. Here’s why that was the right decision.
After an impressive 2017 campaign, A.J. Cole entered spring training as the favorite to earn the fifth spot in the Washington Nationals‘ starting rotation. He ultimately began the season in the rotation, but it was not the result of a strong spring.
In four spring starts, Cole pitched to a 4.85 ERA in 13 innings. However, the Nats chose to ignore his poor results and believe in his impressive finish from a year ago.
Then, Cole had a nightmarish season debut. He lasted just 3.2 innings against the Atlanta Braves, surrendering 10 runs on 10 hits and three walks. He did hit a home run, but it was a night to forget for the righty.
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Cole’s second start, also against the Braves, was much better. He allowed two runs in 5.1 innings, putting the Nats in a position to win. While it was much better than his season debut, it was still nothing to get excited about.
Due to Cole’s lackluster start to 2018, he was replaced in the rotation by Jeremy Hellickson. However, Cole remained on the roster because he is out of options. Before the Nats could send him to the minors, he would have to pass through waivers.
As a 26-year-old pitcher and former top prospect, Cole is not likely to go unclaimed.
Most of Cole’s success from 2017 came as a reliever, so there was hope that a move to the bullpen would be beneficial, but that was not the case. In two relief appearances, he allowed three runs on three hits (two homers).
It is hard to pinpoint what caused Cole’s struggles, but control played a major role.
Cole issued six walks in 10.1 innings, which is way too many. Even when he did not ultimately walk the batter, he was hurt by grooving pitches behind in the count. Falling behind hitters rarely ends well, and Cole fell behind hitters more often than not.
In addition to issuing too many free passes, Cole served up six homers in 10.1 innings. This is far from a formula for success, which was evident in each of his outings.
Now, the Nats have designated Cole for assignment. They risk losing him, but he could benefit from a change of scenery.
To replace Cole, the Nats have promoted 35-year-old Carlos Torres.
Torres spent 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he pitched 72.2 innings. He is not a bonafide long reliever, but is capable of pitching multiple innings. For now, he will likely serve as the long man.
If the Nats are not comfortable with Torres as the permanent long reliever, Mike Rizzo could acquire one around the trade deadline. Former National Craig Stammen has gotten off to a great start in 2018 and would be a perfect fit.
The Nats gave Cole a fair opportunity to prove himself, but he could not produce. Now, the Nats risk losing him. Just because things did not work out in Washington does not mean he does not have a bright future ahead of him, though. He is still just 26 years old and certainly has potential.
In the right situation, Cole can develop into an effective pitcher. However, that situation is not in Washington.